Last week’s post was precipitated by the fact that I was feeling a little overwhelmed, grappling with the expectations of working for myself, that I had created for myself.
That is, specifically, the expectations of being a self-employed business owner -musician, artist, and teacher who must constantly find new business leads, new creative ideas, and new ways of explaining musical concepts to people ages 4-72, in addition to keeping business records, returning phone calls, maintaining a cost effective web/social media presence, and staying organized sane.
This week I have the opposite thoughts going on in my head. The thoughts about the expectations I had about being a stay at home mom and a stay at home mom who worked. Then there’s this insecure female out there blowing up the internet with her bombastic, banal rant against women who only want to stay home.
“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.” Amy Glass
I worked for one of her kind, not that long ago. The kind of woman who hated men, hated being held back by anything, and had the ambition of an elephant stampede across the Sahara. She loved me until I came back from maternity leave with my first child. Then the dynamics changed. When I finally had to tell her I was having a second child, she asked me if “this one was planned?” and then when I had a minor complication at 33 weeks, her question was, “are you going to have your tubes tied after this one?” I kept a post-it note at my desk with a number on it and every week the number got lower. It was the number of weeks until my maternity leave began and I could be free forever of the hateful environment known as my office.
The day came when I finally got to stay home. And I got to start my own business and open a piano studio, which some would still refuse to call a real job, but I can let you know it is. My expectations as a mom were that I would always be organized. I would never be late or rushed again. The laundry would always be clean and folded. Groceries would float into the house and place themselves on the shelf. Dinner would always be ready at a perfect time and temperature. I would write prolifically. I would increase my daughter’s vocabulary 600% from all the reading and literacy games we would do together. There would beautifully crafted toddler structures gleaned from Pinterest created daily. My daughter would be regularly well behaved perfect. I would finally have the ability to balance what I HAD to do with what I WANTED to do.
Twice in the last week, I have made soft boiled eggs and buttered toast. And twice in the last week, I have eaten them stone cold, because promptly when I swiped the last ripple of salted butter over the warm toast, my eight month old managed to spread excrement throughout her diaper and onto her clothing, which requires she have a diaper change, a clothing change, bath, re-diapering, redressing, washing out of soiled clothing, all while said child is uncomfortable and fussing. My coffee is often left cold. I have to clean up 16 messes before I can put cream into the black coffee that helps my brain function (kids or no kids), I answer 42 questions and explain 26 things while I stir honey into the once hot substance. The organization skills and prioritizing ability that I prided myself on is somewhat subpar these days. The laundry is usually clean and yet unfolded. The house is clean, but as soon as I vacuum, there are crumbs on the floor. Buying groceries (after deciding which ingredients are needed for meals,with minimal help from caffeine), hauling them to the car, from the car to the house and then onto the shelves while pushing a 25+ pound infant carrier with a baby and wrangling a walking three year old is a feat that most (male) doctors I’ve come in contact with couldn’t attempt.
And those are just the silly everyday things that I did anyway while I worked in an office. The really interesting parts are when I have to remember how to imagine being a princess, a dragon, a monster, a pirate, a horse so that I can play along with a three year old who is always off on an adventure in my living room. It’s a new challenge to plan the Pinteresting crafts only to be met with three -year old whims of opposition and refusal to participate. Most challenging is probably the near insurmountable task of reading a mind to understand what is happening in a little developing brain, to keep from hurting her feelings, squelching her creativity, to know what will interest her, to keep her curiosity satisfied, while, most importantly, teaching her to obey for her own safety, to be polite, to be kind, to be generous…to be, oh, exceptional!
Playing with and taking hygienic care of and loving others WHILE you try to get something, anything, done is where true exceptionality comes in. It is not exceptional to just work. It is not exceptional to go on a hiking backpack trip through Asia. Virtually anyone can do those things. But putting your work and to do list and life plan on pause or hold until nap time, or bed time, or until later in life, to live for others, ultimately – that is exceptional.
I know stay at home moms who accomplish more than I can fathom, while being dressed, with their hair done. I know working moms who accomplish so little it is pitiable, and their hair is in serious need of help. I know stay at home moms who are pathetic and working moms who are superwomen. I know women who have never wiped a nose or backside other than their own, but who live for others in ways far superior to anything I’ve ever done. I know women who have cheerfully worked jobs and thrown themselves fully into others’ lives because they never conformed to Glass’s “societal conventions” and married or could never hold their own children in their arms for one reason or another.
Being a “stay at home” working mother is far more chaotic and less Pinteresty than I would like. Once, maybe twice, I’ve thought about that steaming cup of coffee that I consumed every morning at a quiet desk while organizing my thoughts and lists for the day. And then, I look over across the floor (where I am sitting with my laptop) and I know I have to teach piano lessons this evening and I would like another cup of coffee, and I have a project to finish for my piano studio and three more on the list, but a little thing with bright eyes comes rolling toward me and a three year old is telling me that the big bad wolf is going to get me and I laugh. Life is so interesting and entertaining and absolutely wonderful with two little people and a job I like doing, even without proper caffeination. And the bonus is that there are no elephant stampedes occurring in my house while the elephants prey on potentially weaker species.
BUT, if there is one thing I can say about the last few months, it is that I have never felt so free to be exceptional in the last eight years. I have never had the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be as exceptional as I wanted to be. I can finally follow my ambitions as aggressively as I care to expend energy. I have no insecure and angry feminist ranting over my head on a daily basis. I am surrounded with people who love and support me. I am free to treat others like HUMANS, not numbers, which is what mothers do. We help humanity survive. Just like doctors. Just like scientists who discover cures. Just like Steve Jobs. (Ok, that example might be subjective for some of you). Mothers, fathers, people, are all here to help others, to live for others. Without people who live for others, there would be no people. That is what Ms. Glass ultimately doesn’t understand. It does not matter if you choose to wipe a backside, or study saliva swabs to find disease cures, we all eventually have to devote some part of our lives to living for others. The real cliché of society’s convention is to give into a feminist’s self-absorbed world rather than to live for someone beyond me. We have lost our way, ignoring that Christ gave His life for others. God gave His son for others. We are offered salvation because God’s redemption involved sacrifice.
The reality is that all humans are exceptional. Some are strong and some are weak. But we are all made in the image of God. Therefore, we are all exceptional. Only those who do not believe this have to find some skewed standard by which to measure exceptionality.